Stem cells, obesity finding lead Nobel predictions

Researchers who discovered stem cells and the appetite hormone leptin, who proposed that dark energy is helping the universe expand and who developed “gene chips” are named in the 2010 Thomson Reuters predictions to win Nobel prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry.

Thomson Reuters expert David Pendlebury’s forecast is made using the company’s “Web of Knowledge” data on how often a researcher’s published papers are used and cited — used as a basis for further research — by other scientists. Every year at least one of the picks from one of his annual lists has won a Nobel prize.

“Some people perform outstandingly differently from so-called ordinary researchers,” Pendlebury, of Thomson Reuters Healthcare & Science division, said in a telephone interview. Thomson Reuters is the parent company of Reuters.

“People who win the Nobel prize publish about five times as much as the average scientist and are cited 20 times as often as the average scientist.”

For the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine, to be announced on October 4, Pendlebury has chosen three possible teams this year in his report.


They are Douglas Coleman of Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine and Jeffrey Friedman of Rockefeller University in New York, for their work discovering leptin, a hormone linked to appetite and obesity. Friedman and Coleman won a Lasker award, widely considered to help predict Nobel winners, on Tuesday.

Obese rodents given leptin lose weight, but it turns out humans will disobey its signals and overeat anyway. Nonetheless, the hormone is important for understanding the mechanisms of eating.

Nobels often go to groups of three researchers and Pendlebury also picks Ernest McCulloch and James Till of the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, who first discovered stem cells in bone marrow in the early 1960s and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan’s Kyoto University and the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, who discovered in 2006 how to make induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells from ordinary skin cells.

“It’s hard to imagine that won’t eventually win a Nobel prize because it is so fundamentally remarkable,” said Dr Jeremy Berg of the National Institute of Health’s Institute for General Medical Sciences.

Another possible winner is Ralph Steinman of Rockefeller University in New York, who helped discover the role of dendritic cells, immune cells found in the skin, intestines and nose that are the first line of defense against some microbes. Stimulating dendritic cells helps makes some vaccines work.

“He is the second most cited person in immunology overall,” Pendlebury said.

Expanding universe
For the physics prize, to be announced on October 5, Pendlebury points to Saul Perlmutter of the University of California Berkeley, Adam Riess of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Brian Schmidt of Australian National University for discoveries of about how the universe is expanding and how dark energy might permeate the whole univese and affect this.

He chooses Charles Bennett of Nasa and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and Lyman Page and David Spergel of Princeton University in New Jersey, who have done work with the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe or WMAP.

This instrument measures the heat left over from the Big Bang to determine the size, shape and composition of the universe. “They are extremely influential,” Pendlebury said.

For the chemistry prize, to be awarded on October 6, Pendlebury favours Patrick Brown of Stanford University School of Medicine in California, who invented DNA microarrays, also known widely as gene chips, which are broadly used by scientists now to see which genes are active in various cells.

Berg said Brown’s microarray idea resembled inkjet printers, as opposed to the method used by Affymetrix, based on semiconductor technology.

Pendlebury also names Stephen Lippard of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who found a way to make platinum disrupt DNA, the basis of a family of cancer drugs that use the metal.

In 2009, Pendlebury correctly predicted that Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak would share the Nobel prize for Medicine for discovering telomerase, an enzyme involved in aging. He considers previous years’ picks to also still be in the running. – Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Why Ethiopians are losing faith in Abiy’s promises for peace

The prime minister may have won the Nobel Peace Prize but he has failed to quell the violence in his own backyard

The poverty of poor economics

The winners of the Nobel prize in economics experiment on poor people, but their research doesn’t solve poverty

US-UK-Japan trio win chemistry Nobel for lithium-ion battery

The trio will receive the prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10

Nobel award recognises how economic forces can fight climate change

Yale economist William Nordhaus has devoted his life’s work to understanding the costs of climate change

Women scientists still ‘undervalued’ despite twin Nobel wins

Canadian scientist Donna Strickland became just the third woman in history to win the Nobel Physics Prize

Former UN chief Kofi Annan dies

Annan was a career diplomat who is widely credited for raising the world body's profile in global politics during his two terms as UN chief
Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

War of words at Zondo commission: ‘Grow up Mr Gordhan,...

The cross-examination of the public enterprises minister by Tom Moyane’s lawyers at the state capture inquiry went on well into overtime on Monday evening

‘Where the governments see statistics, I see the faces of...

Yvette Raphael describes herself as a ‘professional protester, sjambok feminist and hater of trash’. Government officials would likely refer to her as ‘a rebel’. She’s fought for equality her entire life, she says. And she’s scared of no one

Covid-19 stems ‘white’ gold rush

The pandemic hit abalone farmers fast and hard. Prices have dropped and backers appear to be losing their appetite for investing in the delicacy

Al-Shabab’s terror in Mozambique

Amid reports of brutal, indiscriminate slaughter, civilians bear the brunt as villages are abandoned and the number of refugees nears half a million
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…